Traffic lights on the way back to shared space junction at Kirkintilloch?

Chaos at the Catherine Street junction in Kirkintilloch
Chaos at the Catherine Street junction in Kirkintilloch

It is hoped traffic lights may soon be reinstated at a busy junction in Kirkintilloch town centre.

The Herald can reveal that the environment group behind 50 per cent of the funding for the controversial £3.1 million road layout has now accepted traffic lights and controlled crossings can form part of streets designed along the principles of shared spaces.

It is understood Sustrans, who set the criteria for the design of the new road layout at Cowgate, will now contact the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee to this effect.

Thousands of people have been protesting against the shared space scheme implemented by East Dunbartonshire Council who awarded £1 million to the project from capital funding. Strathclyde Passenger Transport donated £375,000.

Disabled campaigner Sandy Taylor, who petitioned parliament for a moratorium on shared spaces until safety issues had been resolved, told the Herald: “I have learned this week that following comments made by Scottish Transport Minister Humza Yousaf, Sustrans have conceded that a shared space scheme can include traffic controls, controlled crossings and kerbs.”

Mr Taylor added: “This in the same week that East Dunbartonshire Council leader Rhondda Geekie finally conceded live on radio that the shared space scheme in Kirkintilloch has been a failure.”

He added: “Over the past two years we have been told by both Councillor Geekie and Sustrans that to have controlled crossings along Cowgate would destroy the integrity of the scheme. At last, common sense has prevailed.”

Thousands of people have been protesting over the East Dunbartonshire Council-led shared space project because of safety concerns. In the run-up to the New Year, a string of road accidents occurred at Kerr Street’s junction with Cowgate.

Strathkelvin MSP Rona Mackay has been calling for the reinstatement of traffic lights at the junction and this week branded the shared space roadworks a “total disaster”. She said the accidents within the space of a week should be a wake-up call to the council.

A member of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee, Ms Mackay invited Mr Yousaf to a meeting of the committee in November to hear Mr Taylor’s petition. He said that all local authorities should ensure shared spaces were “inclusive.”

Mr Taylor, Chair of East Dunbartonshire Visually Impaired People’s Forum said disabled, blind and elderly people had been effectively “designed out” of their own town centre because of the shared space, which takes in the entire stretch of Cowgate.

He said: “The voice of the local community was ignored and democracy was abandoned. The council failed to listen to our safety fears and warnings that many hundreds of disabled and elderly pedstrians would be excluded.”

Mr Taylor also hit out at Councillor Geekie’s comment live on BBC Radio Scotland this week that the contract for the remainder of the roadworks between Catherine Street and the William Patrick Library must be fulfilled.

He said: “Councillor Geekie said on radio that the council could vote out this scheme but added that the development was still under construction and had to be completed.

“Why should the East/West High Street junction with Cowgate be narrowed like the rest of Cowgate, causing the same problems for buses and large vehicles.

“Surely commonsense will prevail and adjustments to the design made immediately to avoid a further waste of public money.”

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said today: “The Scottish Government is committed, through Scotland’s Road Safety Framework to 2020, to achieving safer road travel in Scotland and protecting vulnerable road users such as children, pedestrians and pedal cyclists and disabled people.

“Our Designing Streets framework provides principles and guidance for local authorities on the inclusive design and redesign of new and existing streets and pavements. This includes the principles that street design consider pedestrians first and private motor vehicles last, providing for all people regardless of age or ability.

“We recognise that shared spaces – and level surfaces in particular – can pose problems for disabled people such as the visually impaired. In this respect, it is key that the road safety requirements for all road users are taken into account and it is important that local authorities make decisions according to the specific needs and safety concerns on the ground.

“We have liaised with Sustrans regarding shared space schemes and whether a controlled crossing could form part of such a scheme. Sustrans have accepted that on reflection, they acknowledge that a street can be designed under the principles of shared space while having standard traffic features such as controlled crossings.”

The Herald asked for a response from Sustrans. This is what they said this afternoon (Friday).

“Last year Sustrans responded to the call by the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee papers with our views on the inclusion of controlled crossings within shared spaces. In this response we emphasised that controlled crossings allow and encourage traffic to be the dominant user in a street. A street dominated by cars and other vehicles is at odds with the principles of shared space and the guidance of the Scottish Government. In essence, if there are controlled crossings, the street ceases to be a shared space and instead becomes a standard urban environment, where motor vehicles dominate the street and everyone else finds a way around the stream of vehicles on the street, such as can be seen on many high streets in Scotland. This response was submitted in February 2016.

“With more detailed consideration, we do acknowledge that a street can be designed under the principles of shared space whilst having standard traffic features such as controlled crossings, indeed in Kirkintilloch there are controlled crossings already in place on the re-developed street. However, it is important to add that we believe that the retention of standard road features, like controlled crossings, can reinforce the idea of a vehicle-dominated environment which could be at odds with creating a more pedestrian-friendly street environment.

“Shared space is a loose term – all streets are already shared to some degree. Our focus is on ensuring we make our streets safer, more attractive places for people and the design approach should be informed by local context and the local community. This is the approach that has been taken in Kirkintilloch.

“Indeed, the design of the junction has taken into account the views of all stakeholders and access groups. As a result, significant changes have been made to the design. The concept is a modified form of the commonly perceived uniform single surface, (a so-called shared space). The current design includes 20mm kerb upstands at all raised tables (incl. ‘shared’ areas), 60mm kerb upstands elsewhere, appropriately located tactile paving and edge surfacing, bollards and associated street furniture to assist in movement of those with visual impairments, and two additional controlled crossings, situated on Kerr St and Catherine St. In addition, ducting has been included at the Catherine Street Junction to accommodate controlled crossings if the council judge that is required. We have no wish to impose a design on the street that will not work for local people, but we do feel that taking the street back to one dominated by vehicles where the ‘car is king’ is not a step forward for the High Street and completely removes any sense of ‘shared space’ in Kirkintilloch.